Four fundraising takeaways in the battle for the Senate

Senators in competitive races are building their war chests

Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock led the four Democrats facing competitive races in fundraising.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Georgia Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock led the four Democrats facing competitive races in fundraising. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted April 16, 2021 at 1:29pm, Updated April 20, 2021 at 2:00pm

Corrected, April 20 | Senators facing competitive races in 2022 are building their campaign war chests as many await opponents, the latest fundraising reports show. 

The four Democratic incumbents in states Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates as Senate battlegrounds are particularly gearing up for tough races, each raising more than $2 million in the first three months of the year, according to campaign finance reports filed Thursday with the Federal Election Commission. Republicans need a net gain of just one seat to win control of the Senate. 

The new disclosures provide early clues about the battle for the chamber, with scores of candidates still waiting to launch their campaigns. 

Here are four takeaways from the latest filings: 

1. Incumbents building war chests 

The four Democratic incumbents facing competitive races next year raised a combined $14.2 million in the first fundraising quarter. They reported a combined $19.1 million in their campaign accounts as of March 31. 

Georgia’s Raphael Warnock led the pack with a $4.6 million haul, which does not include most of January since that month was included in a separate report after Warnock won a hotly contested Jan. 5 special election for the seat. Warnock’s campaign also ended the quarter with the most cash on hand, reporting $5.6 million. 

Arizona’s Mark Kelly, who also won a special election in 2020, raised $4.4 million in the first quarter. New Hampshire’s Maggie Hassan raised $2.9 million while Nevada’s Catherine Cortez Masto raised $2.3 million. 

None of the incumbents had early challengers who raised a significant amount of campaign cash. The challenger with the highest total was retired Army Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, a Republican challenging Hassan, who raised just $24,000 in the first quarter. 

Inside Elections rates four states held by Republicans as Senate battlegrounds, but two of them, North Carolina and Pennsylvania, are open seats since Sens. Richard M. Burr and Patrick J. Toomey are retiring. 

Florida GOP Sen. Marco Rubio signaled he is gearing up for a competitive race, raising $1.6 million in the first quarter. His campaign had $3.9 million on hand. 

2. Johnson’s future unclear

Republicans are also defending a Senate seat in Wisconsin, where Ron Johnson has not yet said whether he will run for a third term. His latest report showed his fundraising was not as aggressive as Democratic senators gearing up for tough races next year. 

Johnson raised $545,000 in the first quarter, the smallest haul of the potentially vulnerable senators but a significant jump from the $131,000 he raised in the last quarter of 2020. Johnson’s campaign ended the quarter with $1 million on hand. 

The Democratic field to take on Johnson is still growing and just three candidates launched their campaigns early enough to file first-quarter reports. 

Alex Lasry, a Milwaukee Bucks executive whose father co-owns the basketball team, raised $1.1 million in the first quarter, including a $50,000 loan from Lasry himself. His campaign had $773,000 on hand. Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson raised $264,000 and ended the quarter with $319,000 on hand. Gillian Battino reported raising $62,000, including a $55,000 loan from herself, and ended the quarter with $3,000 on hand.

Johnson, however, has shown a willingness to use his own money to fund his campaign. In 2016, he loaned his campaign $340,000, and in 2010 he put in $8.9 million.

3. Open seats still in flux 

The races to replace retiring senators Burr and Toomey in North Carolina and Pennsylvania are in flux with candidates in both parties still launching their campaigns. But the latest reports show some candidates with early financial advantages.

In Pennsylvania, Democratic Lt. Gov. John Fetterman raised a whopping $4 million, and ended the quarter with $1.9 million on hand. Democratic state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, who announced his Senate campaign halfway through the quarter, raised $374,000 and had $217,000 in his account. 

The GOP field in Pennsylvania is still developing as well, but real estate developer Jeff Bartos reported raising $1.1 million, which includes a $550,000 loan he made to his campaign.

In North Carolina, state Sen. Jeff Jackson led the Democratic field with a $1.3 million haul and $838,000 on hand. Former Democratic state Sen. Erica Smith, who ran unsuccessfully in the Senate primary in 2020, raised $197,000 and ended the quarter with $140,000 in her campaign account. 

The Republican field in the Tar Heel State began to grow with the start of the second quarter, with former Gov. Pat McCrory jumping in the race this week. Former North Carolina GOP Rep. Mark Walker has had the primary race to himself since launching his campaign in December. He reported raising $209,000 in the first three months of the year, and his campaign had $913,000 on hand. 

4. Some House members eyeing Senate bids boost fundraising 

Some House members weighing potential Senate runs have boosted their fundraising in the first quarter, with the highest numbers coming from Ohio, where GOP Sen. Rob Portman is retiring. 

Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan raised $1.2 million in the first quarter, with $1 million on hand. GOP Rep. Steve Stivers raised $1.4 million and had $2.4 million on hand. 

Wisconsin GOP Rep. Mike Gallagher, who could run for Senate if Johnson retires, raised $830,000 in the first quarter. Iowa Democratic Rep. Cindy Axne, who is weighing a run for Senate or for governor and is also a House Republican target, raised $555,000. 

A handful of Missouri Republicans are also considering running for the state’s open Senate race. Ann Wagner led the group of potential Senate candidates with a $593,000 haul. Her campaign had $653,000 on hand.

But some House members weighing runs against Kelly and Warnock did not come close to the two Democrats, who are fundraising powerhouses after winning competitive special elections. Arizona GOP Rep. Andy Biggs, who is considering challenging Kelly, raised $243,000 in the first quarter. Georgia Rep. Drew Ferguson, who is considering running against Warnock, raised $330,000.

Ryan Kelly contributed to this report.

This report has been corrected to show a third Democrat filed in the Wisconsin Senate race.